The Navy Is Finally Resurrecting This Fighter Jet ... After It Sat in the Desert for Years

For half a decade, the EA-18G Growler was considered a write-off.

Last month, the U.S. Navy returned to service an electronic attack jet that was heavily damaged in a midair collision that left the aircraft sitting in the Nevada desert for four years while officials figured out what to do with it. Now, after more than a year of rehabilitation work on a plane that some said would never fly again, the EA-18G Growler is off to resume the normal life of an electronic attack jet.

According to the Navy, the EA-18G Growler was damaged in a midair collision at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada on September 14, 2017. The aircrew were able to land the aircraft, but the plane was so badly damaged that the service just left the plane outdoors in the desert. At the time, the Navy says, there were no established procedures for fixing a Growler.

The EA-18G Growler is an electronic attack jet based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter airframe. It has many of the capabilities of the two-seat Super Hornet, but thanks to its AN/ALQ-218 electronic warfare pod, it also has the ability to detect, identify, locate, and analyze enemy electromagnetic emissions, including enemy radio and radar broadcasts. It can also jam those same broadcasts due to its ALQ-99 and ALQ-227 tactical jamming pods.

Five Growlers are assigned to an Electronic Attack squadron (VAQ), and the squadrons support both Navy and Air Force air operations. One squadron is assigned to every aircraft carrier on deployment. In wartime, Growlers collect electronic information on enemy forces and have the crucial role of destroying enemy air defenses, jamming radar and communications, and using the AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) to strike enemy radar sites.

In 2021, the Navy finally decided to fix the stricken jet. “Upon initial inspection,” the service says, “there was little hope the aircraft would be fit to fly due to the complexity of the repairs required following the mishap, as well as weather damage from years of sitting in a desert environment.”

The Navy trucked the aircraft from Fallon to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, the home of all electronic attack jet squadrons (VAQs) that fly the Growler. It transferred the plane to Fleet Replacement Squadron, VAQ-129, where it finally found a home indoors. There, the service proceeded to “develop processes, complete repairs, and thoroughly inspect” the aircraft. The entire effort took more than a year, required replacing all major components, and involved more than 2,000 hours of work.

Now considered a “special rework” jet, the plane is awaiting transfer to one of the worldwide electronic attack squadrons.

The Navy isn’t disclosing how much repairing the jet cost. Regardless, it now has procedures in place for repairing a damaged Growler, something it didn’t have before. If war were to break out tomorrow, the service would likely have plenty of damaged EA-18Gs on its hands. Now, thanks to a jet that sat forlorn in the desert for four years, it has a playbook to fix them. 

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